A sudden, wrenching divorce becomes the catalyst for a woman’s journey of self-discovery in this Christian-themed novel set in the American South of the 1970s.
Mallie Vose, a 39-year-old wife and mother in Memphis, Tennessee, never really questioned the path that her life had taken. Since she was a child, she’d always assumed that she would marry and have children, and that her other ambitions would take a back seat to caring for family. When she met he future husband, Larry, in college, it seemed natural for her to abandon her artistic aspirations in order to become his wife. Two decades later, she’s faced with a cheating husband, a crumbling marriage, and little sense of her own identity. Her counseling sessions with Father Tom Matthews, an Episcopal priest, turn from talking to kissing. Later, although she’s not strongly religious, Mallie attends Christian life-coaching retreats, where she finds herself challenged to look at her life in new ways, and she creates a new, self-reliant identity, free of men. The story that debut author Gorman tells in this book, in which a privileged woman’s comfortable life is upended by a philandering husband, is hardly a new one; even Mallie’s rebound relationship with the creepily attentive Father Tom isn’t surprising. What makes the narrative exceptional is its nuanced approach to Mallie’s spiritual transformation. The protagonist takes her Christian beliefs for granted; she was raised in the Catholic Church and converted, like many other upwardly mobile Southerners, to Episcopalianism. However, although she seeks answers at Christian seminars, she doesn’t have a miraculous conversion to blind faith, but instead uses religious, intellectual, and psychological tools to refocus her life. The story glosses over some important issues, however; for example, Mallie gives occasional thought to “the inequities…of the black people in her life,” but the only African-American character is her childhood nurse, who only appears in memories. Many readers may find the lenient treatment of Father Tom to be disappointing as well.
A thoughtful, if somewhat shallow, exploration of a woman’s spiritual quest.